An unlikely formula, some gnarly defense and Notre Dame tops Syracuse

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Kylee Watson with more points than Olivia Miles?

Cass Prosper and Nat Marshall each with as many as Sonia Citron?

Even on the busiest day of sports wagering in the nation, and the wildest in terms of wacky props, you could’ve gotten some exorbitant odds on those bets, if they even existed — and you’d have won.

Winning is what the balance-ladened Notre Dame women’s basketball team did.

Legendary Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand announces his retirement

Olivia Miles saves the day as shorthanded Notre Dame staves off last-placed Pittsburgh

Using an unlikely formula that included the above, and some gnarly fourth-quarter defense, the Irish finally went ahead for good with 7:13 to go en route to a 73-64 victory over Syracuse on Sunday evening at Purcell Pavilion.

On her 21st birthday, Watson led the way with 15 points as No. 10-ranked ND improved to 20-4 overall, 11-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Feb 12, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Kylee Watson (22) looks to pass as Syracuse Orange forward Asia Strong (15) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Maddy Westbeld added 14 points, Miles 13 points and seven assists, and KK Bransford 10 points.

Prosper, Marshall and a foul-plagued Citron each finished with seven.

The Irish remained a game behind Duke (12-2) in the ACC, and just a game ahead of Virginia Tech and Louisville, which comes to town Thursday.

The Orange (16-10, 7-8) were paced by Dyaisha Fair with 22 points. Georgia Woolley added 17 points, and Dariauna Lewis 14 points and 10 rebounds.

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► Watson, who had averaged just 4.0 points with a best of eight over her last 12 outings, matched her Irish high, which occurred in the season’s second game.

She was efficient, too, going 5-of-8 from the field and 5-of-7 at the line, where she entered the day at 45% on the year.

“I guess it’s just a coincidence,” a smiling Watson said of whether her birthday played into her performance, which also included seven rebounds to share team-high honors. “I just came out ready to play today, just wanted to give it my all and come with energy.”

She did so right away, netting eight of her points in the opening quarter to go with a steal and an assist, and was pivotal in the final quarter as well with four points and three boards.

“I thought she was fantastic from the beginning,” ND coach Niele Ivey said. “Her energy, her defense, scoring the ball, made some huge free throws. She really ignited us today.”

► The Irish defense was about as uneven as it gets, at least by the arbitrary measure of points allowed per quarter, but it was special when it mattered most.

ND gave up just six during the second period, when Syracuse missed 13 straight shots, but then got torched for 30 in the third, when the Orange made eight straight shots.

That set up the contest to come down to the final quarter.

The Irish entered trailing 54-52, but doubled up the visitors 21-10 to grab the win.

“I’m not even sure they knew we gave up 30 points,” Ivey said of her players and the third-period total, “so I talked about it at the beginning of the fourth quarter, challenged them to lock in defensively.”

On a day that ND mixed its defensive looks, the hosts did lock in down the stretch, primarily in man, utterly stifling Syracuse to the tune of just two points and no field goals over a span of more than seven minutes as the Irish flipped a 60-59 deficit into a 72-62 lead by the time just 37 seconds remained.

“I thought Cass did a great job on Fair,” Ivey said of what particularly stood out in the fourth period. “We threw multiple bodies at her (on the day). Soni did a great job also, and I thought Cass’ length really bothered her, and then KK came in, so I was trying to throw multiple players at her to try to wear her down.”

Feb 12, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Dyaisha Fair (2) goes up for a shot as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Cassandre Prosper (4) forward Natalija Marshall (15) and guard Sonia Citron (11) defend in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Though Fair, the ACC’s second-leading scorer, finished a pinch over her 20.2 season average with her 22 on the day, just three of those came in the closing quarter on 1-of-4 from the field and 1-of-2 at the line.

► Playing a fifth straight time without injured Lauren Ebo, ND got its best collective play out of its complementary pieces since losing its starting grad center.

Marshall’s seven points and four rebounds in 14 minutes entailed perfection as she went 3-of-3 from the field and 1-of-1 at the line.

It came after the junior forward had averaged 1.9 points over her previous 10 appearances.

Prosper, meanwhile, swatted away a game-high three blocked shots to go with her seven points over a career-high 32 minutes.

“They played awesome,” Watson said of Prosper and Marshall. “Just defensively, (they’re) doing all the little things. … They’ve just been so awesome, and it’s been so much fun to play with them.”

Added Watson of everybody, “I think we’re finally getting in the groove of understanding what we do best and really just being one on defense.”

Ivey concurred, while noting that with Dara Mabrey out for the season after a Jan. 22 injury and Ebo out at least temporarily, there’s been a sort of starting-over period as the Irish blend in newer combinations.

“We’re trying to learn how to play as a unit,” Ivey said. “Normally, you work on that early on, but with the injuries, it’s (tougher). … I thought today was probably our best game playing together. That was something we talked about all week.”

Worth noting

Asia Strong, a 2018 South Bend Riley graduate, missed her fifth straight game for Syracuse since suffering a lower leg injury on Jan. 26 against Virginia.

Orange coach Felisha Legette-Jack has said Strong’s return this season will depend upon the grad forward’s tolerance for pain.

Up next

ND wraps up its four-game homestand by hosting nemesis Louisville (19-8, 10-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Cardinals have beaten the Irish five straight times, including 78-61 and 73-47 last season.

No. 10 Notre Dame 73, Syracuse 64SYRACUSE (16-10): Lewis 6-12 2-3 14, Wood 0-0 0-0 0, Fair 8-18 3-4 22, Rice 1-4 1-2 3, Woolley 6-11 2-2 17, Strong 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 0-2 0-0 0, Hyman 1-8 2-2 4, Perkins 2-5 0-0 4, Totals 24-61 10-13 64NOTRE DAME (20-4): Watson 5-8 5-7 15, Westbeld 5-12 3-6 14, Bransford 3-4 4-4 10, Citron 3-9 0-2 7, Miles 4-12 5-8 13, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Prosper 2-6 2-2 7, Marshall 3-3 1-1 7, Totals 25-54 20-30 73

Syracuse1863010— 64
Notre Dame19171621— 73

3-Point Goals_Syracuse 6-15 (Fair 3-6, Rice 0-1, Woolley 3-5, Hyman 0-3), Notre Dame 3-11 (Westbeld 1-2, Citron 1-4, Miles 0-2, Prosper 1-3). Assists_Syracuse 13 (Rice 4), Notre Dame 17 (Miles 7). Fouled Out_Syracuse Lewis. Rebounds_Syracuse 31 (Lewis 10), Notre Dame 39 (Miles 7, Watson 7, Westbeld 7). Total Fouls_Syracuse 21, Notre Dame 13. Technical Fouls_None. A_5,239.